Rathke: Come on up, Mississippi – time for a new constitution!

Little Rock      On the Peoples’ Daily News that I do for the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement (AM/FM) and all of our stations, I scrounge the daily papers for factoids and news bits that might interest our listeners and give them a brief sense of the fine hands that are pulling the strings behind current events.  An item caught my eye recently that snapped by head back:

Under the 1890 Mississippi constitution passed as a Jim Crow measure, statewide officers must win a majority of the popular vote and a majority of the 122 House districts comprising the state House of Representatives.  If no one wins a double majority, the House may choose the governor.

Make no mistake, this was all about white supremacy and a result of the work of the Redeemer movement organized in the South to undermine the Reconstruction effort after the end of the American Civil War.  In the wake of the war and the end of slavery, more than 80% of black males registered to vote.  In the 19th century, no women in the United States were yet allowed to vote so of course their servitude continued.  Mississippi in writing its constitution in the perverse wisdom of its political leaders could see the day coming when they might not have the majority so this doubletake effort at preserving white rule in the constitution might postpone that day.

Now, almost 130 years later, with the highest percentage of African-American population in the country at 38%, the racists seem to have done their work well.  Of course, taking away the votes gained under Reconstruction until the late 1960s and beyond worked marvelously for them as well.  As I visited with the Delta Foundation and WDSV in Greenville and then We2together, the nonprofit community development corporation, in Sunflower County’s Drew, Mississippi, I asked about this weird piece of political science.  Most were surprised to hear this clause was in fact still in the Mississippi constitution, but Spencer Nash, the executive director of the Delta Foundation, knew about it and told me that in some areas of the state, as well as the recent election for governor, it was in fact raised as an issue.  The Democratic candidate for Governor, Jim Hood, a four-term Attorney-General, had narrowly lost with 47.2% of the vote, but had indicated that if he won, he would ask for this clause to be amended.

In fact, twenty years ago it was a factor.  According to governing.com,

“When Ronnie Musgrove became the last Democratic governor of the state in 1999, he and his Republican opponent won an equal number of state House districts. Musgrove had carried the state by a plurality and the House installed him in office.  But back then, the House was still controlled by Democrats. Republicans now control 74 of the 122 Mississippi House seats. GOP House members aren’t going to install a Democratic governor who fails to carry the state outright.”

It all makes me think of the Nanci Griffin song, “Come on Up, Mississippi!”  The lyrics aren’t really available, but the point of the song is hard to missShe’s singing that it’s time for Mississippi to come on up to the standard that the rest of the states are at least pretending to maintain.  1890 is a long time ago.  It is indeed time for Mississippi to come on up.